In November 2013, Trump traveled to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant, which he co-owned at the time and which was hosted by Russian real estate developer Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin. Trump’s eager anticipation of this trip was exemplified in a June 2013 tweet, in which he asked: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?”
While in Moscow, Trump met with numerous Russian oligarchs and businessmen. In addition to meeting with the Agalarovs, he also appeared in one of Emin Agalarov’s music videos filmed in the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. He met with Herman Gref, the CEO of Russia’s biggest state-owned bank, Sberbank (Michael Cohen and Rob Goldstone were also present for meetings involved in planning the trip). Several of these individuals involved in the pageant were instrumental in organizing the infamous June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, and some even attended the meeting personally. The meeting was initiated by an email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump Jr., reportedly on behalf of Emin Agalarov. Goldstone himself attended the meeting, along with Ike Kaveladze, a vice president at Aras Agalarov’s real estate company.
Following the pageant, Trump publicly praised Putin. At the March 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump spoke about receiving a gift from Putin, saying “Putin even sent me a present, beautiful present, with a beautiful note. I spoke to all of his people. And, you know, you look at what he’s doing with President Obama. He’s, like, toying with him. He’s toying with him.” He praised Putin again in March 2014, saying “I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently. And I spoke indirectly—and directly—with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.”